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When Should You Go First & When Last? A Scientific Answer

Many self-development books recommend people to go first.
Some of the recommend them to go last though.

Who's right?

As it's often the case: neither are.
Reality is complex and general, catch-all advice rarely hits the mark.

So here is for you an evidence-based, quick-read guide on when you should go first and when you should go second (or last).

Go First When...

When you’re in a serial competition (ie: job interviews or candidate seeking votes) go first when:

  • You can be the first name of ballots and elections (the first name gets a major boost)
  • You’re not the default choice (audience and evaluators are paying more attention and are readier to change old assumptions)
  • There are relatively few competitors (the “primacy effect” is stronger)
  • There are many strong candidates (if the audience and the assessor see many strong early candidates they will start looking for flaws in the successive ones)

Don't Go First When:

Go last (or not first) when:

  • You are the default choice (the audience is less likely to challenge the status quo and more likely to stick with the default when fatigue kicks in)
  • There are many competitors of average level (the primacy effect doesn’t hold and by going last you can showcase your uniqueness)
  • You’re operating in an uncertain environment (you can get a hedge by watching what the competition does while the evaluators are also getting their "assessment bearings" going)
  • The competition is weak (at the beginning of the competition the judges hold an ideal standard of performance, and when it’s not met, they discard the first competitors while the successive competitors enjoy more realistic expectations)

If you are the market leader, either first or last is good (Wagner, Judy A.; Klein, Noreen M., 2007).

When You Should You Speak First

Imagine you are a politician running for office or imagine you want to influence people to take a certain action and another speaker is trying to influence the audience with an opposing message.

When should you speak first?

Speak first if:

  • The election (or action to be taken) is several days away (the latency effect is mitigated by the election being far away)
  • You speak back to back (the primacy effect of your message will "pollute" your opponent's message in people's mind)

Speak second if:

  • There is a break between speeches (people have time to mentally shift and the latency effect won't pollute your speech)
  • The election is imminent (you have a bigger change of delivering a powerful message)

To learn more about power presentations also check out:

My Note On Order Effects

A solid grasp of psychology on what you should focus on depending on whether you're first or last and depending on what your competition says and does is much more crucial than what individual studies say about the effects of serial positioning.

Finally, whenever you cannot influence your position or whenever you have no idea what the competition said or did, focus on the most important thing ever: yourself.
Deliver great content, a great presentation or a mesmerizing sales pitch and you're golden.


The following advice is based on When by Daniel Pink and The Social Animal by Elliot Aronson (Aronson tops my list of best psychology books BTW). I won't mention here the single researches backing each single point, but all the advice here is research-based..

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